I tend to be a history geek, thriving on snippets of history of which I had no prior knowledge. One of my grandkids is equally as interested in history as I; therefore, I love to find snippets I can share with him. I was checking out the “First Families” pages on The White House website and came across a piece on Margaret Mackall Smith “Peggy” Taylor. It caught my eye because my mother’s name was “Peggie,” no Margaret nickname, just “Peggie.” Anyway, I found the piece very interesting. You may find the whole matter HERE.
Margaret married Zachary Taylor when he was still an Army lieutenant. The life as an Army wife was quite different from their aristocratic backgrounds, but she adapted quite well, according to all reports. Historian Elizabeth Thacker-Estrada said of Margaret: She was a “tough, careworn pioneer woman and peripatetic military wife transplanted from her cultured eastern roots. Margaret did not want her husband “Old Rough and Ready” Taylor to run for President. After following him about for 40 years, she had set her mind on a “retirement” of sorts on their plantations, and she definitely did not wish to take on the responsibilities of being the “First Lady.”
She passed off many of the social responsibilities to her 23-year-old daughter, Betty. Meanwhile, Margaret received visitors in an upper room at the White House, claiming “delicate health” issues, although an explanation of those issues was hard to come by. “Though Peggy Taylor welcomed friends and kinfolk in her upstairs sitting room, presided at the family table, met special groups at her husband’s side, and worshiped regularly at St. John’s Episcopal Church, she took no part in formal social functions. She relegated all the duties of official hostess to her youngest daughter, Mary Elizabeth, then 25 and recent bride of Lt. Col. William W.S. Bliss, adjutant and secretary to the President. Betty Bliss filled her role admirably. One observer thought that her manner blended ‘the artlessness of a rustic belle and the grace of a duchess.'”
Because she avoided the “limelight,” so to speak, there are few anecdotal accounts of her service as First Lady, making her both more mysterious and more likely to know unscrupulous remarks about her.
Margaret Taylor, like many women, did not enjoy having her image taken. In fact, the engraver for the image of her husband’s death was quite upset with the fact she held a handkerchief over her face. Her prediction of her husband’s death had come true. Two years into his term, Zachary Taylor died of cholera. Margaret became the first First Lady to serve during the death of her husband.
Margaret Mackall Smith “Peggy” Taylor served as First Lady from 1849 to 1850 as the wife of the 12th President, Zachary Taylor. She followed her husband in death, dying two years later. A New York Times obituary listed her not as the former First Lady or even by her given name, but as “Mrs. General Taylor.”
The biographies of the First Ladies on WhiteHouse.gov are from “The First Ladies of the United States of America,” by Allida Black. Copyright 2009 by the White House Historical Association.